It’s National Infertility Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is #FlipTheScript.
Ten things I wish I’d known about egg donation!
1. That I had requested more identifying information about our donor.
I chose my donor based on her looks, personality, talents, and openness to future contact. She and I are very similar in a lot of ways. And although she was happy to have contact initially, she got cold feet.
If I were choosing another donor today, I’d also prioritize someone who was happy to be in touch / meet in person before we cycled—not just in a vague some-point-in-the-distant-future kind of way.
2. That just because I’d paid my dues in the infertility department wouldn’t mean my struggles were over.
Halfway through my pregnancy with V I learned that I had placenta previa (where the placenta covers the cervix), which would mean the midwife-led birth I’d always dreamed of was no longer an option. I cried all afternoon, apologizing to my unborn daughter. I couldn’t believe that after everything I’d already been through—miscarriage, infertility, being told IVF with my own eggs wasn’t an option, and embracing egg donation—I would have to adjust my expectations again.
Having embraced the idea of a surgical birth, and having even philosophized that the placenta previa might be a blessing in disguise, I still had a traumatic birth. Despite repeatedly asking about placenta accreta (where the placenta grows through the lining of the uterus and into the uterus itself) and my many [previa] ultrasounds ruling it out, I did have it. As a result, I haemorrhaged and lost a gallon of blood. The peaceful caesarean I hoped for was not to be.
Similarly, I thought that when the time came to try for a sibling, all we’d have to do was pick a date for transfer. I assumed that by removing my DNA from the infertility equation it would be as simple as that. And it really wasn’t. More about that tomorrow!
3. That I wouldn’t care that my daughter doesn’t look like me…
Even though I chose a donor who looked like she could be a member of my family (in fact, she’s probably an Irish cousin!), my kid doesn’t much look like me. She actually looks 60% like her dad and 30% like our donor, and 10% unknown. I think she is the most beautiful, impish creature in the world. And it’s funny to see how my influence is expressed in other ways. For example, she looks exactly like me when she frowns! And she averages 88th percentile for height, so even though our donor and DH are around 5’8″, maybe my 6’0″ frame has influenced her height epigenetically.
4. …but that I still have moments where I feel left out.
We live in a culture where the assumption is that parents share DNA with their kids, and a lot of conversations revolved around who got what from whom. I’d be lying if I said that it sometimes hurts when other people coo over kids and familial resemblance. I’ll never experience that—because even if my child/ren end up having similar features to my own, it will be a coincidence. (You can read more about this in my other post.) Similarly, I sometimes get sad that, with my in-laws, I’m the only person not genetically related to anyone else around the very large table. But this isn’t a bruised ego talking about not having created a mini-me—this occasional discomfort relates to my reproductive trauma. (See #10!)
5. That I would quickly find a pithy response to innocent but invasive questions like, “Where does your daughter get her red hair from?”
I worried about fending off questions about why my kid doesn’t look like me. I never imagined I’d have a kid with vibrant red hair, which invites a lot of commentary… At first, I’d try to explain that red hair is a recessive gene, which means both genetic sides have to have it. Then people’s eyes would glaze over. Sometimes they’d ask if I’m Irish (I have a British accent, so sound different to most Americans) and then pounce on that factoid. I soon realized that most people actually don’t care to hear whom your kid inherited what feature from. So now I just grin and say, “She came out this way. Total surprise!” It satisfies someone who took a moment to engage in pleasant conversation—and I don’t have to have a laborious conversation about egg donation. I’m 100% open, but not every interaction has to be a teachable moment…!
6. That most people, even other parents via egg donation, are not comfortable talking about egg donation.
I’m in a minority of parents who are open with everyone about egg donation. A lot of parents plan on telling their kids, but don’t know how. I say, jump right in! (And here’s where I promote a forthcoming book about egg donation that I worked on, which will walk you through it!)
Other parents say they will tell or have told their kid, but no one else because that’s a choice their kid gets to make. Personally, I don’t get it. We make plenty of decisions for our kids, and I can’t help but think that telling a kid that they have to decide is kind of like putting an old head on young shoulders. How does a kid know who to tell and who not? I think it’s easier just to be out in the open. I guess that’s what works for our family, but I wish more people were as open as I. The world is still pretty clueless when it comes to alternative family-building, and sometimes I feel quite alone in my efforts to educate people about egg donation.
And, finally, pet peeve: I really don’t like it when people avoid talking about how my kid was created. It diminishes everything DH and I went through to create our family and overlooks the extra layer of parenting that we have. And I need the people in our lives to talk about egg donation, to help normalize it for our kiddo/s.
For the record, I LOVE it when people ask questions! There are no bad questions. And even if you call our donor “the real mother” (see #9), I will forgive you.
7. That having an extra layer of parenting (talking about egg donation to my kid and other people) would take up more time than I could have imagined.
V is still too young to ask where she got her red hair from, or to notice why we talk about [Nellie]. But I’m constantly reading about egg donation, and how to raise a child created this way. And once or twice a month I tell V her conception story. This, I embrace. But it’s definitely an extra layer to parenting that most people don’t have to think about.
Another layer is educating others about egg donation. It can be exhausting to dispel myths and gently correct people’s language choices (see #5 and #9).
8. That not being genetically related to my child enables me to see her for who she is, and not who I assume she is.
By nature, we humans like to pigeon-hole and categorize people. It’s a quick way of processing the world. Ain’t always accurate though! Because I can’t look at my kid and draw conclusions about her from my own family of origin, it forces me to see and accept her for who she actually is, without drawing assumptions.
That said, having a non-genetic kid is a fascinating study in nature vs. nurture. Is V taller because of me? Traits like sense of humour are learned, not inherited, and she’s definitely a lover of goofy wordplay like me—is that my influence? How come she looks exactly like me when she frowns? How is it that she is already a great little mimic like me, when DH still can’t do a British accent even after being in relationship with me for 18 years!? And is she artistic because Nellie is, or I am, or both? And does it even matter—just give the kid some pens and paper already!
9. That an accidental referral to my donor as “the real / other / birth / genetic mother” wouldn’t bother me as much as I’d have thought.
When it comes to alternative family-building, a lot of the language we borrow comes from adoption. But language is constantly changing, and terminology is always evolving. Words have power. Positive language choices must be embraced.
If you use a wrong term, fear not—I will correct you, but I will be nice about it! Here’s why:
Real mother: I’m the real mother. I grew my kid. I breastfed her till she was almost 2. I’m the one raising her. She asks for me—not a woman she’s never met—when she’s hurt.
Other mother: I’m not raising my daughter with another woman. She has one mother and one father.
Birth mother: This term is borrowed from adoption. I’m the one who gave birth to my daughter.
Genetic mother: Although I concede it’s medically accurate to describe an egg donor as “the genetic mother,” it’s only because we don’t have a better term. “Genetic mother” is inappropriate because the word “mother” carries far more weight than an egg donor merits. Without wishing to denigrate the very real and generous contribution a donor makes, any egg donor who views herself as a mother to the children she helped create (but not grow, nurture, or raise) would rightfully be disqualified from donating. Plus, that will create all kinds of confusion for a little kid.
Don’t worry if you slip up, I’m pretty forgiving. If you want to talk about our donor, especially in front of V, you can refer to her as “your egg donor” or by her name, if you know it.
10. I wish I had known (not just trusted) that once my baby was placed in my arms, I wouldn’t care how they got here—only that they, in fact, got here.
That’s not to say there aren’t shock waves of infertility and miscarriage grief and PTSD from time to time, but I’d go through every painful injection, invasive procedure, recurrent heartache all over again to have this child.
And, in some ways I did… Stay tuned for tomorrow’s big reveal 😎
Is there anything you’d like to know that I haven’t covered? Just ask!
Seriously! Nothing is off-limits, but I reserve the right to reply privately ;)
I’ve posted something here on OFT, as well as on Instagram (@OnFecundThought and @TheTryingTimes) every day this week.
And because I’m “out-out” about our infertile struggles and how we came to create our family, I’ve also cross-posted to my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts too. #FlipTheScript